from From the Potomac to the Euphrates and Middle East Program

Killing “The Death of Sykes-Picot”

January 5, 2015, 11:30 am (EST)

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Happy New Year! Devoted readers of this blog will know that I generally loathe the annual end- and beginning-of-the-year roundups, lists, retrospectives, and prognostications. “Lame” is the only way to describe them, which is pretty lame when you think about it. There are a few exceptions to this, of course. I always look forward to my buddy Marc Lynch’s best political science books on the Middle East—though it is often a reminder of how far behind I am on my reading—and I enjoy David Brooks’s “Sidney Awards,” named after Sidney Hook. I also dislike New Year’s resolutions and almost never make them, this year being an exception: In 2015, I will refrain from trolling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is not that he is not deserving of criticism, but he is such an easy target. It just does not seem fair. Truth be told, I do not think I can top likening him to the Turducken as I did on Thanksgiving in Politico.

This is all a long windup for what I am hoping 2015 will bring in the Middle East. It is probably too much to ask for peace and prosperity so I won’t. I am going to start out small and ask for better writing about the Middle East. Toward that end, I have begun a list of phrases and words that are often used in articles and books about the Middle East that chafe me like nothing else. Feel free to add to the list:

  • “Al Azhar, the oldest and most venerated institution of Islamic learning in the world,” or any such similar formulation.
  • “The great Anatolian landmass.”
  • “Turkey is a bridge between East and West.”
  • “Turkey is torn between East and West.”
  • “The fiercely secular Turkish military.”
  • “The pro-Western Turkish military.”
  • “Boots on the ground.”
  • “The wily and mercurial Muqtada al-Sadr.”
  • “The wily Yasser Arafat.”
  • “The teaming Gaza Strip.”
  • “The Gaza Strip, the most densely populated place on earth….”
  • “The Zionist project.”
  • “The Zionist experiment.”
  • “Israel, where everyone seems to have two opinions and many have three….”
  • “The restive Sinai Peninsula.”
  • “The lawless Sinai Peninsula.”
  • “The Kingdom.”
  • “The desert Kingdom.”
  • All references to Saudi Arabia being an “austere land.”
  • All references to the “landmark meeting” between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Saudi King Abdul Aziz bin Saud aboard the USS Quincy.
  • “Sykes Picot is dead,” or “The death of Sykes-Picot.”
  • “The Sykes-Picot boundaries.”
  • “The artificial boundaries of the Middle East.”
  • “Lines in the sand.”
  • “The perennial Sunni-Shia conflict,” or any such similar formulation.
  • “In the Middle East, where people are particularly prone to conspiracy theories...,” or any such similar formulation.
  • “Young liberals.”
  • “The birthplace of the Arab Spring.”
  • Descriptions of rugs, clothing (especially veils), beards, yarmulkes, and teahouses are strictly haraam.